The OD toolbox is full of incredibly useful techniques for improving how organizations function. There are 360 surveys, conflict resolution strategies, team-building approaches from personality surveys to outdoor ropes courses, DACI/RACI templates to improve decision making, culture diagnostics and interventions, large group vision and values development workshops, and on and on. The field keeps innovating and organizations have benefited from these approaches for four decades.
However, taken in isolation, these OD techniques can be like changing the oil in your car. It is true that clean oil helps a car run better and last longer. And if it has been awhile since your last oil change, pulling into a Jiffy Lube or the dealership to change your oil is a no-brainer.
But if your car is hesitating when you accelerate, or if you used to get 40 MPG and are now getting 25, or if your check engine light keeps coming on, it certainly won’t hurt you to pull into Jiffy Lube, but smart money says that is not going to address your car’s issue.
Why? Because clean oil is only one part of the car running well. Similarly clear DACIs are only one part of trying to improve business results. How the car performs is a complex interconnected system that requires a broad, systematic assessment and targeted, sequenced interventions.
For many practitioners, what is missing from their game is any kind of theory of Organizational Effectiveness along with a concomitant assessment and intervention process. What has to be in place for an organization to consistently meet or exceed employee, customer and financial objectives? Once a gap in results is identified, how do you intervene to improve the systems and processes such that the result is real improvement in outputs such as C-Sat or profitability, to name just two?
You might be saying, “What’s he talking about? We have a theory of performance…we bake it into the questions we use in our annual Employee survey and our 360s: Are your goals clear? Do you get feedback on your performance? Are you micromanaged or empowered? And dozens of other questions.” Don’t get me wrong, these are important issues and worth knowing.
Stay with me here. Let’s imagine for a moment that a new General Manager has been brought in from the outside. She calls you, the head of OD, into her office and says, I am going to spend the next 90 days getting to know the organization, assessing problems and opportunities, and developing a plan to drive revenue growth, productivity, C-Sat, and Employee Sat. I want you to do the same and let’s compare our assessments of the opportunities, weaknesses, and key leverage points.
First, does this assignment scare you or would you know what to assess, how to assess it, and what to report back on?
Second, do you think you would you go to the same people/groups, review similar results and ask similar questions as compared to what the new GM will be doing?
Finally, how much overlap do you think there would be in the issues you identify and in the key leverage points you would each be targeting?
My guess is that for most OD people, there would be very little overlap between their assessment process and conclusions and the new GM’s. My belief is that the gap would in fact be huge. Why is that? If the objective is to improve the organization’s ability to deliver results, why would there be so little in common in the assessment approaches and conclusions about the same organization?
If you say you Develop Organizations (OD), then my belief is that you have to be able to answer what you develop them for. You can say, I am an OD practitioner and I help organizations to reduce inter- and intra-team conflict. Great. Cars need their oil changed and every organization I have ever been a part of would have benefited from less dysfunctional conflict.
But if you say you develop organizations to improve the outputs of the organization, then I don’t see how you can say that if you don’t have a comprehensive, systems-oriented theory of how to assess and intervene to get those improved results. And in my mind, the sniff test for that theory is the degree of overlap it has with the approach that a new GM would take. You would not expect them to be perfectly aligned, but if the new GM’s assessment identifies a couple dozen structure, process, talent, and mindset gaps and yours only talks about teamwork, well, that in my mind is Jiffy Lube OD.
There is nothing wrong with providing an oil changing service. However please don’t be the guy/gal who changes the oil thinking the check engine light will soon go out.